Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review: Flagship Phenom

by Reads (12,197)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 9.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Great image quality
    • Weather proofed
    • Awesome grip
    • Great autofocus
    • Great viewfinder and LCD screen
    • DSLR-like feature set
  • Cons

    • Noise can be an issue at high ISOs
    • Cost
    • No second memory card slot

A big Olympus announcement was rumored even before my trip to NYC to unveil what is now known to be the OM-D E-M1. Although we all hoped for something huge, we weren’t really sure if the unveiling would match our expectations. Within a half an hour after the announcement I had my hands on the new OM-D and have had a hard time putting it down since. Arriving about a year and a half after its predecessor, the E-M1 packs a powerful punch with a 16.3-megapixel LiveMOS sensor, TruePic VII image processor, 5-axis image stabilization and weather proofing. In fact, the E-M1 has plenty of other great features like no AA filter, 10 frames per second continuous shooting rate, a pretty great EVF, and an awesome LCD screen, too. But along with these great specs, Olympus also announced a relatively high price tag–$1400 for the body only. Will the Olympus E-M1 have what it takes to demand this price point? Will the usability and image quality surpass the E-M5 enough to have users digging deep into their wallets?

Olympus OM-D E-M1

The E-M1 does not replace the E-M5, rather it sits next to the previous model hoping to garner its own praise and admirations. After all of the hype surrounding the E-M5, albeit well deserved, it is easy to question if Olympus could create a product that would surpass the image quality and design of that camera.

In February 2012, the E-M5 bolted onto the scene with a sleek, classic body and image quality that was quite impressive from a genre of cameras that had collected a relatively small portion of the camera buying population. Some embraced the camera whole-heartedly from the start, while others warmed up only after the positive reviews started pouring in. Fast forward 18 months. Micro Four Thirds cameras have to fight less than they used to in order to obtain the recognition they deserve. The great divide between MFT and APS-C is closing rapidly due, in no small part, to the pioneering E-M5.

Build and Design
All it takes is holding the E-M1 and you know immediately it was built for professional level use. Although the camera body is lightweight (17.5 oz/1.1 lbs) and compact (5.13 x 3.68 x 2.48″), it is well constructed from magnesium alloy making the camera easy to use for extended amounts of time. The camera has been designed as an SLR-style mirrorless camera making it much smaller than its APS-C counterparts. Yet, the camera maintains many of the qualities that consumers love about DSLRs. For example, a manual mode dial is just as easy to access on the E-M1 as the Canon 60D or Nikon D7100.

Olympus has maintained a classic look and body style for the E-M1. The all black E-M1 is more angular than most DSLRs. It has a narrow, rectangular body with a protruding grip that begs to be hand held. It is jam packed with a plethora of physical buttons. The majority of the body of the camera is shrouded in a rubberized leather-esque skin.

The E-M1 still maintains the pentaprism shaped EVF on the top of the camera. Just below this EVF, nestled snugly in the body of the camera is the 5-axis image stabilization system Olympus is known for.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 beats out many DSLRs in the weather proofing category. The E-M1 is dust, splash and freeze resistant. Olympus is out to prove that the E-M1 can be taken almost anywhere.    

Olympus has changed up the placement of a few of their buttons and dials. Every single change is for the better. The new placement of the on/off switch on the top left of the camera is much easier to use than the awkward placement on the back as seen on the E-M5. The only thing better is if the switch was located next to the shutter release. Heck, anywhere on the top right side of the camera would lend to one handed use. Also, changing the playback button to the lower back of the E-M1 is a much better placement than the easily overlooked location on the E-M5.

Ergonomics and Controls
The E-M1 has a DSLR style grip that makes me very happy. Although I am a fan of the E-M5 my biggest complaint was the lack of a good grip unless you added the additional battery pack. In terms of ergonomics, the E-M1 beats the E-M5 hands down. No longer do you need to add the additional grip to make the OM-D easier to hold for long amounts of time. The E-M1 has a much better feel while using the camera. But, an additional battery grip is available for those that love the extra bulk and like the look of a heftier DSLR.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

The front of the camera offers three main buttons/functions on the front of the camera: the lens release, the depth of field preview and a nifty custom white balance button. When setting the custom WB you have the opportunity to choose up to 4 custom settings.

The top of the camera features a whole bunch of buttons and controls. The mode dial is great. It has a button press in the middle to lock the dial. But, say you hate a locking mode dial. No big deal. Just depress the button and the dial no longer locks. It?s great! In addition to the mode dial is a shutter release, exposure dials, function button, video button, on/off switch, the HDR and the AF/metering buttons.

The back of the camera looks similar to many DSLRs. The back contains a function button, a multi directional control, info, menu, playback, trash, and display button. It also has an AEL/ALF button with a 1,2 switch for additional customization.

Menus and Modes
I find the menu in Olympus cameras to be much more difficult to navigate than they need to be. They are quite cumbersome and the immense functions are hidden amongst the maze of tabs. Pushing the menu button will bring you to the menu screen. Once you are in there you can access numerous functions. My best advice is to consult your owner’s manual (or the internet version of it) for a detailed rundown of the menu and all of its functionality. The great thing about an immense menu is the features that stem from it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1Olympus OM-D E-M1

One very cool feature (that should actually be a defult setting) is the Live SCP. It’s so helpful. Take the time to set this feature even if you don’t set any other custom function for your E-M1. The Live SCP allows you to bring up a screen that gives you immediate access to all of the most important settings. Here’s how to set it: tap the menu button, scroll down to the “gears” custom menu board, scroll to “D” Display, scroll to control settings, click on P/S/A/M, click on Live SCP (make sure Live control is unchecked). After you have set this, the SCP can be accessed by hitting the “OK” button. Changing your settings like WB, ISO and focus point is now a breeze.

The E-M1 has a tilting 3-inch LCD screen with a whopping 1,037,000 dots of resolution. The screen is bright and easy to use even in sunny conditions. I had no problem using the LCD to compose and chimp my images. In fact, I found it way easier to use than my Nikon D600. The colors are more vivid, the images are more crisp and zooming in to check for sharpness was a breeze. Having a tilting LCD screen is nice for those overhead shots I take during wedding receptions or ground shots I take during the ceremony.

Olympus OM-D E-M1

The electronic viewfinder on the E-M1 is pretty darn amazing. It has 2,360,000 dots of resolution and 100% coverage. The EVF has an information overlay that will have you wishing for your DSLR no longer. The viewfinder is bright and crisp with only a slight lag. That being said, I still found myself using the LCD screen more than the EVF. This is completely opposite of how I use my DSLR and I can’t pinpoint why I am using these viewfinders/LCD screens so differently.

Olympus OM-D E-M1Olympus OM-D E-M1

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